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Arriving in Immoren - Thranduil

Thranduil found himself alone. He peered into the darkness through the branches of the forest he was in and noted the position of the stars through the branches of the trees. They were not one’s he recognised. One moon over Tir Nan Og, two over the Flanaess and now three over Western Immorean. If indeed, that was where he been transported to. Still a little disorientated from the teleport spiral, he sat down where he was. He waits for the dizziness to pass, waits for the others to show up. An hour passes. Nothing happens and nobody comes and so he moves off, pausing to note the changes in position of the stars in relation to the branches when he was stood on the same spot. So, he knew which way the sky revolved, even if he didn’t yet know morning from evening.

He wanders through trackless woods for some time, a predawn mist begins to gather. He vaguely discerns mountains in the distance and for want of a better plan, sets a course by them. He continues through the trees.

His highly trained senses and reactions saved him from the ambush. He dropped his left shoulder so that the arrow glanced off of the steel that protected his right shoulder. The other arrow passed a hand’s breadth in front of his face. There was then a long game of cat and mouse between the trees. With the Falliarochben and the two (?) ambushers stalking each other in the eerie light of the misty pre-dawn. Thranduil shot one of his unseen assailants. Once the other went to the aid of his wounded comrade, he quickly closed on them. After years of practising the forms, a swooping falcon brought the pommel of Thranduil’s taiken down on to the back of the previously unwounded man’s helmeted head. Warding wyvern quickly brought the tip of the blade around to the throat of the one with the arrow in his leg. They were elves. Elves in unsettlingly familiar black raiment. Drow. Or perhaps not.

Dressed in the colours of the Carach Angren, these carried longbows and not the same crossbows as the ones who'd murdered Captain Lafe Marlow had. Leaving the unconscious one for a moment he put up his sword and finished bandaging the wounded elf’s leg. The wounded elf was talking to him, but not in language he knew. With the wounded man bandaged, he made the unconscious one comfortable. He left, found a stream and brought water, sharing that and some of his waybread with the wounded man.

When the other ambusher came around he appeared to be a little surprised at his predicament. Thranduil and Asyth had learnt each other’s names and the nouns for a lot of things in the forest as well as all their military gear. It appeared that the intruder wanted his help in carrying the wounded guard to somewhere where he could receive medical aid. That would be Caverstyr then.

Caverstyr is in uproar. It appeared to be a very quiet and dignified uproar but nonetheless something was wrong. Thranduil and the one with the sore head helped Asyth, the wounded one. They were largely ignored by other soldiers and elves as they approached and entered what Thranduil took to be a large walled quasbar. They were stopped inside the gate by someone Thranduil guessed to be a junior officer. Questions were fired at the two guards and at the uncomprehending Thranduil. A gesture from the officer saw Thranduil seized by two more guards. He shrugged off one and twisted the other’s thumb up, causing him to drop to his knees. The officer was drawing her sword and preparing her attack as Thranduil was divesting himself of his weapons and handing them over. All of a sudden, the officer did not have enough hands.

Thranduil once more took on his share of the casualty’s weight and they continued to what he presumed passed for an infirmary. All the while now escorted by the officer, sword drawn and the two other guards, one carrying Thranduil’s arms.

From the infirmary the officer indicated to Thranduil that he should follow, eventually coming into some form of study where a robed elder elf was waiting or working. He regarded Thranduil expressionlessly. Thranduil committed third obedience, as he was obviously the senior ranking person met so far. The officer gave over her explanation, including the name of Asyth and some referral to the infirmary. The robed person executed a small spell. Thranduil idly wondered what the rules were for spell use in this place.

The robed figure then appeared to speak Gwaithor. Certainly the officer and guards still looked blankly at them both. His name was Hyssë of the hallyntyr (Noble House?) Rhssylr. Thranduil was in Ios, within the Ithyl (State?) of Nyssothyl. All of the lands hereabouts belonged to the Rhssylr. He was in the house of Caverstyr, which appeared to Thranduil to be a fair sized quasbar. He’s guessed at a small garrison of twenty or so soldiers, so the complex as whole might have a population of over a hundred. They guarded in some way something called the gate of mists, and slew any non elves who entered into Ios via their lands. Outsiders were not welcome. But Thranduil was an elf, albeit not Iosian and apparently, as he had absolutely no knowledge of Shyr, their language, nor Aeric, the tongue of the Nyss either.

Thranduil began his explanation with the revelation that he was from a different world entirely. This caused Hyssë to start, which made the officer and her soldiers twitchy. The two guards were bidden to wait without whilst Thranduil continued. He explained that he was a servant of the Assembly of Arch Magi and briefly covered the implications thereof, getting an interested nod. He explained about Kelkess Raccoba and his perfidious activities. He outlined his mission to bring the errant blackrobe to justice. Hyssë asked if this would involve his execution. He replied that really depended on Kelkess’ attitude to being told what to do, however, from what Thranduil already knew of his character, it would almost certainly not be an amicable occasion.

The elder and the falliarochben sat then, making themselves comfortable whilst the officer waited for further instruction (or some as yet undefined act on Thranduil’s part which would spur her to action).

Hyssë explained about the loss of the gods of the Iosian elves. He told of the rise of the Retribution of Scyrah as a movement and their (human) mage slaying mission. He told of the nearby mountain of Shyleth Breen and it’s retribution hideout. And of hallyntyr Rhssyl pretending it wasn’t there.

They conversed then about travel between worlds, an art lost to the Iosians and empirically unknown in the rest of Immorean. Thranduil’s very presence presented an entire world of opportunity for the peoples of Ios. Thranduil’s mission and his ties and responsibilities were tested again and again. He asked after news of his companions only to be told that no-one had reported (slaying) any intruders for at least a month. In order to disguise Thranduil, he was to be given a ring – a signet with a sheaf of arrows badge engraved upon it. It put him in mind of the badge of Clan Dre. Asking about it, it transpired that this ring belonged to a scion of the Rhssyl, recently deceased.

Aelin Rhsslyr, whose home this was, gave birth to a soulless child and committed suicide a year to the day after that. Pelyth, the father, a year to the day after this, has made himself Eldrich and left, killing three elves. Thranduil indicated that he didn’t understand and so Hyssë told him of the Eldrich and their unholy unlife[1] . Aelin’s ring, which she had worn on a chain about her neck, would fit Thranduil’s hand. Hyssë told him that it would over a year or so, slowly, teach him Iosian. Until it had, it would be best not to talk to anyone until he was well outside the borders. The Eldrich who used to be Pelyth Rhssyl had returned a year later and done murder again not two days ago. The whole of Nyssothyl was in a state of alarm and more likely than not, would shoot first and bury the evidence. This drew wry smiles from both of them.

There was no time to loose, the less people he met in Ios, the better. They would wait until darkness and then the officer, Daryme, who could converse with him in Cygnarian, would take him on horseback through the gate of mists. After that, as long as he kept Ios on his right and the barren lands which men knew as the Bloodstone Marches on his left, then he would eventually reach the city of Corvis in the nation of Cygnar.

In addition to the signet ring of Aelin Rhsslyr, he is given a large tome which is a text designed to teach a native Iosian speaker to read, speak and write the language of Cygnar. Hyssë evidently thought that Thranduil was academically gifted enough to teach himself Iosian by some form of educational reverse engineering.

What he learned from the tome and the ring over the next year largely reinforced his initial impression: The Iosians are so secretive and paranoid of other races that few know of their background, legends, or beliefs. To humanity in particular they are an enigma, one which has vexed them for millennia. Some few elves do venture out of Ios, and elven diplomats have established cool and aloof contact with the leaders of all the kingdoms of mankind. There are also those who have been exiled from their homeland or driven by their own purposes to a life of exploration and adventure, but elves remain a very rare sight in the human cities.

Unknown to all except dwarven scholars, the elves have not always called Ios their home. Perhaps four millenia ago, the elves came into the region as a ragtag assortment of refugees. They fled some great disaster to the east, and hid in the land of Ios alongside their living gods. The dwarves made peaceful contact with their new neighbours but found them cold and unfriendly even in those days, refusing all offers of aid or support. Since those first days a veil of secrecy has always clouded the civilisation of the elves, and only escorted and carefully watched outsiders are allowed within its borders. The dwarves claim they used to have more contact with the elves in days of old, and that things have become particularly difficult in the last few centuries. There are also rumours of a desperation among the elves, and violent radicals who have banded together to strike out against the other people of the region. Elven exiles have been implicated in a number of recent crimes, increasing the wariness that humans have always felt for their secretive neighbours.

The truth is every elf knows a secret pain and agony for they know their last goddess will likely die within their lifetime, and with her the doom of all their people. The elves face imminent extinction, a fact which weighs on the mind of even the most carefree and debauched of their number. Some seek to ignore this ominous truth by fleeing into a life of adventure and pleasure, while others hold onto hope and feel their fate can be avoided by heroic deeds. Others are bitter and angry and look everywhere for enemies to blame, targets upon which to vent their rage.

It should be noted the Nyss tribes of the north do not seem as concerned for their future as the elves of Ios, perhaps because of their own religion and patron. Yet, they are similarly isolated and do not freely mingle with other races.

The elves of Ios speak Shyr, unquestionably the most complex language of the Iron Kingdoms, and the most difficult to learn. Shyr has not changed significantly in millenia, so its roots are unknown. Written Shyr is a nightmare to learn as there is no actual alphabet and every word has its own written symbol.

All of the gear he brought with him is returned. He visits the infirmary again before he leaves. By way of thanks, Asyth mentions that, although forbidden, he will ask all the border watchers of Nyssothyl to watch out for Thranduil’s return. Up to the border, Daryme is close lipped and taciturn. Thranduil apologies for depriving hallyntyr Rhssyl of such a fine steed (to Thanduil’s ilin mindset, the obvious and entirely understandable reason for any churlishness). It is only as they part that he learns that Aelin was Daryme’s younger sister.

Lacking any clear focus, Thranduil sets of for the Cygnaran city of Corvis on his ‘loaned’ horse, a grey mare named Myrrn. He passes through Corvis and on to the estate (“Dragon House”) of the local lord, Duke Kielon Ebonheart IV. What Thranduil finds is a murder scene. There had been a ball, many guests, the great and the good from nearby Corvis, stayed over. The next day the favoured only daughter of one of the guests, a coal merchant named Solor, was taken ill with some form of non specific illness. This persisted for two nights and then, she disappeared. An appeal for help was issued (which appears to be why Thranduil was admitted) and answered by Lord Roget d’Vyaros. This man is a displaced noble from occupied Lleal as well as a formerly high placed member of the Order of the Golden Crucible, a now repressed (in Lleal) order of wizardry.

Together Roget and Thranduil track the missing girl, using skills and spells, through a days worth of rambling estates to an old and disused Ebonheart family mausoleum in a forgotten corner of dark and foreboding woodland. She is dead, brutally sacrificed in the most gruesome manner[2] . Roget has a number of theories, however, from his conversations with Hyssë, Thranduil believes that this is one of the set of thirteen ritualistic murders that an Eldrich conduct each year to preserve its unlife.

Upon returning to Dragon House they are shown a bundle of dark clothing, weaponry and other equipment found hidden in the suite of rooms used by Evlin Solor. Thranduil recognises them as belonging to Forgileill. His heart sinks and he bids the Duke to secure the items in a metal chest and have them placed in his chapel. Or better yet, offers Roget, the Cathedral of Morrow in Corvis.

A pact is made then. Roget travels to the monastery of the Ascendant Angellia in Fellig (p 168. IKWG) whilst Thranduil undertakes to pursue the Eldrich, who he believes is most likely to until recently have been Pelyth Rhssylr. Hopefully between their increased knowledge and search for his whereabouts, this otherwise perpetual menace can be neutralised.

His travels confirm his first impressions of being an elf in the Iron Kingdoms: They are regarded as reclusive, secretive– many would even say xenophobic. They are also chaotic and unpredictable, at least to the more ordered minds of Men and dwarves. There is one thing for certain, though– those who approach Ios without being invited do not return. What little trade there is between the elves and other races is done in such a way as to conceal the homeland from the sight of strangers. There are rumours, of course... some say that elvenkind are masters of strange mechanika and magic. And that the trees and stones whisper secrets to them, or that their cities are built around the temples of living gods as old as the world itself... but no one can or will confirm any of it. Even the rare elves that choose to leave their homeland are silent on the topic.

On that note, any Elf seen outside the homeland fits into one of three categories. First, there is the occasional well-protected diplomat or merchant lord. These powerful individuals may be spied rarely on the streets of major cities, concealed in a palanquin, conspicuous only by the masked elven guardsmen that surround them. Second, there is the rare elven outcast. These pathetic (and often dangerous) individuals have been driven from their homeland for unspeakable crimes– among the long-lived elves, exile to the "barbarian lands" is a fate worse than death. Lastly, there is the rarest elf of all, one for whom wanderlust and curiosity about the world overcomes their natural fear, distrust and disdain for the outside world. Some of these wanderers belong to offshoot religious sects not welcome in the homeland.

So he spent most of the year totally alone. Those with whom he interacted very much kept him at arms length. Which it turns out was not such a bad thing as it let him concentrate on his self appointed mission.

Thranduil tracks the Eldrich for a year, occasionally getting very close. Once coming into conflict with one of his Sythyss. Once an Iosian swordsman, an assassin for the retribution, it now did kidnap and murder for its new master. There was a look of gratitude in the poor creature’s eyes as he slew it. This exploded as a cloud of dust when vanquished, as indicated by Roget’s letters, received by Thranduil on an irregular basis at Dragon House. ie when he returned there as the Duke’s guest and when the Ranamor Outland Co actually delivered them.

After about six months he is sure that the Eldrich who might have once been Pelyth is aware that Thranduil is tracking him. Ambushes involving numerous animated dead become more common and often prevent him from actually catching his quarry. He does enjoy some successes, including the, er, deactivation of the team of immaculately preserved zombie horses who pulled Pelyth’s carriage. No more travelling in style for the undead bastard.

Thranduil learned to spot the Eldrich’s live agents, the beguiled and the paid. He learned that the creature really had been Pelyth Rhysslyr. Although before he learned to identify it’s agents the Eldrich learned about the lever he had over Thranduil:- Forgileill. Thranduil didn’t manage to ascertain whether she was beguiled or Sythyss (in his heart he knows how hard it is to charm elves, but he still hopes).

Once it even arranged a show for him, on a busy quayside. The Eldrich, wearing the shape that he’d had when alive, paraded Forgileill, having her fawn over him in an overtly sensuous manner. Pelyth Rhysslyr smirked at him and casually pawed at Thranduil’s Lyio. Not only did she not care that she was being fondled in a crowded market place, but under the malign influence of the Eldrich she appeared to enjoy it. Thranduil seethed. Forgiliell would never allow such a thing even with a favoured lover. This abuse was not right. Not fair. Not Just. Evil. Pelyth and Forgileill shared a passionate kiss and she gazed longingly at Pelyth whilst he met Thranduil’s gaze and dropped his façade of life, reverting to his undead form in a public place. As Thranduil was swept away by the panicking crowd he could see Forgileill kissing the desiccated abomination again.

He was ever unable to halt the killings or corner the Eldrich. It seemed to favour girls who were about to be wed or give birth for the worst of the excesses. The atrocities made him feel nauseous and unclean. For another six months he travelled slowly northwards until he almost caught the Eldrich and it’s minions in the capital of occupied Llael, Merywyn. There on the banks of the Black River he witnessed another Sythyss coming out of the water.

The creature was once a Nyss sorceress, but was now badly damaged (rather than hurt) by two pistol shot wounds to the chest. It snarled and swiped at him with it’s claymore. He deftly stepped away and spinning around, came inside her guard and brought the pommel of his taiken down hard on her wrist. He thought he heard it break. But being Sythyss, it dropped the huge sword with out any sign of anguish. “No pain, eh?” he said to himself[3] . To his surprise, she answered as they struggled. “The only pain, the only pleasure, is all through him. I am torn, trapped and alone in his nightmare.”
Thranduil’s thought then was to offer some form of succour to the creature, which obviously retained more of itself than he’d suspected. He stepped back, shoving the Sythyss into a doorway and then bringing his sword up between them. “If you retain that much of yourself, then you must be able to fight him, he does not own you completely.”
“But he does, little warrior, as death owns us all.”
“Won’t you even try?”
“I don’t want to. His power over me is that terrible. The only thing I want is to please him who slew me. I thought I could stand up to an Eldrich, I thought I could rid the world of an abhorrent evil. And now all I want is to be his plaything. I yearn only to defile, fornicate or murder as he desires.”

She tilted her head slightly and glanced coyly up at him. Her eyelashes fluttered as one of her hands went to her throat, stroking her fingers down her neck. Her tongue briefly flicked out over her lips. Her other hand rested on her belly, fingers pointing towards her crotch. “I still have other appetites.” She whispered. Thranduil could feel his other appetites awaken as well. She was beautiful. The hand at her neck had moved down to her bodice and had undone the top fastenings. The look in her eyes was one of promise. Her fingers caressed the smooth mound of her breast. “You want me. You know you do.” It was true, he did.

Suddenly they were kissing, hard and passionate. Her hands were swiftly working to free his erection. His free arm was wrapped around her, grabbing her cold flesh. Somewhere, the fact that she was cold to the touch registered and alarm pierced his consciousness. His hand on the small of her back found the exit wounds where she’d been shot. He stepped back, pushing her away.

She gave a little giggle, her eyes flashing at him from under her unruly fringe. She’d unbuttoned the front of her leather trews and gave him a ‘come and get me’ smile that he found hard to resist. But resist he did. “Pity, I’m much, much more experienced now than I used to be, you have no idea what you’re passing up.”

She seemed to convulse then and snarling, spontaneously grew fangs and launched another attack. Whipping his taiken up, he pinned her through the shoulder (punching through her scapula) to a doorway. There was the briefest of moments where he perceived a small lonely Nyssian girl, alone, dejected and defeated. Then her head snapped back, slamming against lintel. There was a cruel rasping as she, it, drew breath. The voice was no longer that of the Nyss witch, it was that of Pelyth Rhsslyr. “There is one small corner of them that I allow to remain. It is where they go to suffer within themselves. All pleasure and all pain are controlled by me. I give them pleasure when it amuses me. I give them pain when it amuses me. They are mine . They exist only to carry out my will. They die and are utterly damned when I decide.”

She convulsed again and appeared to regain herself, although still with the gnashing fangs. There was the briefest glimpse of pleading sorrow, of piteous revulsion in her eyes as she clawed at his Yicduroh and hissing with hatred for all that still lived and breathed, slowly began to work her way up the sword blade towards him. Thranduil said a silent prayer to whatever power might care for the Nyss and with pity in his heart, whipped the taiken back and decapitated the Sythyss. Again as he vanquished the abomination, he got a sense of almost palpable gratitude from ‘her’.

The city was in quite a state. The Eldrich had been using the resistance as a host and had taken a quantity of military goods from the city’s Grand Magazine. The resistance and the Eldrich and its minions had been on a killing spree. Thranduil thought that it would only be matched by the killing spree the occupying Khadorians would initiate in response over the following days and weeks. He left the city immediately, running the gauntlet of Khadorian Winter Guard trying to enforce their dusk to dawn curfew.

For months, Thranduil had been struggling with his feelings. He has responsibilities to the empire, to himself, to his Lyio and Clan. Perhaps now even some responsibility to Scyrah and the elves of Immorian. But he also feels that he has a responsibility to Forgileill, regardless of any accident of birth. He would do what is right for his friend, even if that involved eternal sleep on an alien world, where all the gods of the elves were absent, dead or dying. It made him literally nauseous thinking about it.

This latest encounter had only made his torment worse. He’d wanted to learn more from the Sythyss he’d conversed with. He’d wanted to ask about Forgileill but had been afraid that he wouldn’t like the answers.

And his darker side wanted revenge. To inflict upon the undead the suffering that they beget on their unwilling minions. To visit upon them the horror that was experienced by their victims. But this although this side of him haunted his dreams, it did not trouble his waking life.

Once more he turned south and tracked the Eldrich’s progress back downstream. Towards Corvis. Whilst en route he becomes aware that Torendra is ahead of him, also apparently chasing the fiend. She is no longer arrayed as a chooser, but as a pistoleer. And that Kamilata, who appears to have become a wild man of the woods, has picked up her trail and is also tracking it.

[1] An “Eldrich” is an Immorian elven Lich. It is not tied to a particular location and when they occur, they tend to travel around. The half a dozen or so who are known of are all infamous and reviled. Throughout recorded Iosian history (hundreds of Millenia) there have been no more than a dozen. Most of those are still at large.
[2] Evlin Solor was the belle of the party. Exceptionally popular in Corvis and a talented individual with a bright future. Nobody had a bad word to say about her. Except that under Roget’s painstaking cross examination there seems to have been two of her at the ball, one in a golden gown (which is still in the house) and one in a lavender gown (which has gone).
[3] If this had been in any other language other Iosian (which Nyssian Elves learn as a second language), then this exchange would not have taken place.

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